I didn’t want to seem like I was overreacting when this feeling came over me last year, and I don’t want to seem like I’m doing so now. And normally, I would just mind my business and stay in my little Internetty lane over here and leave the grand political proclamations to other pages of the paper more concerned with real life. But it’s to the point where I’d feel irresponsible not standing up and saying something.
I think we need to remove Alec Baldwin from office as fake president.
I’d ask that you hear me out before reacting. And if not, you should know that my place has a wall as well as a bunch of really spiky plants around it.
Since Baldwin’s breakthrough 2016 debut as then-candidate Donald Trump in the first presidential debate, all the way up to the most recent cold open mocking Trump’s recent press conference over the invented crisis at the southern border, he has reliably served as the fly in the self-tanning ointment of Trump’s presidency.
In fact, that most recent bit — which took shots at his weight, his wall, and his imagimergency — really set him off.
“Nothing funny about tired Saturday Night Live on Fake News NBC!” Trump opined on Twitter, before pivoting from this generally agreed-upon critique of the steadily-declining sketch comedy series into what sure does sound an awful lot like a threat of state censorship: “Question is, how do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution?”
There are a lot of Trump impersonators out there — Anthony Atamanuik is on Comedy Central’s “The President Show,” John Di Domenico is a network go-to, and lest we forget the orbit of amateur Trumps that circle his rallies in a more Elvis-esque fugue of homage — but there are reasons Baldwin lands so regularly in Trump’s crosshairs.
From the squinting to the tinting, Baldwin’s Trump has situated him indefinitely in the limbo of “SNL” guest stardom precisely because it’s so precise. And Baldwin’s skill as an actor (and reputation as something of a narcissist himself) means that from time to time, he’s able to impart an unsettling depth to Trump’s equally unsettling shallowness.
But another reason is that Trump responds to anger, and Baldwin’s performance is nothing but. Or as “SNL” alum Rob Schneider put it in his own critique of Baldwin as Trump, “He so clearly hates the man he’s playing.”
Like in the cold open, when Baldwin is mocking Trump’s now-infamous sing-song prediction of the legal path of doom stretching before his emergency declaration, he ends with “and my personal hell of playing president will finally be over.” It was honestly hard to tell if that was Baldwin as Trump or Baldwin as Baldwin.
I hope it’s the latter. Because put everything about Baldwin’s performance together: His focus on faithfully capturing appearances, his valiant attempt to locate humanity where none exists, and his flaw as an actor, the animating force of spite, all combine to make Baldwin the perfect Trump — which is not what we need.
You could argue that Baldwin’s Trump isn’t nearly crude or cruel enough. But as Trump and Trumpism have demonstrated over and over again, shamelessly and brazenly, accuracy doesn’t count for much in this administration. Even if you’re an actor, the more you listen to Trump, the less you learn.
The hazard of relying on impressively faithful impressions of an impressively dishonest president is that it treats Trump more like a character than a crisis. Political comedy of the sort that “Saturday Night Live” should be attempting requires more than a canny impression, it requires an uncanny sense of the circus around the clown.
I’m reminded of how “SNL” handled its impersonation of Trump aide, Breitbart head, and guy in a movie who will probably mean bad news later Steve Bannon, simply using a store-bought Grim Reaper costume (and later revealing Bill Murray for some reason).
The Reaper bit was notable for avoiding the absolute garden of low-hanging fruit when it comes to portraying Bannon in the flesh; but also for backing up and letting the context of the situation determine how he would be portrayed, rather than just who on the cast could look like they hadn’t slept in eight years.
Similarly, a more conceptual tack could be taken to more effectively lampoon (and survive) the Trump years.
This could be a job for the Steinbrenner — as seen on “Seinfeld” — a synecdochical move that never gives us the view one George has of the other, just the back of his head. Or it could be taken a step further, drawing inspiration from the trombone that famously played Charlie Brown’s teacher.
Trump rendered as a force that you can’t quite make out in full, or as a noise you can’t make sense of — these seem to more fully capture his essence than another pursed mug and haystack toupee. (Plus, think of the ego blow that would come from being left out entirely.)
Alas, I know that TV is a business, and an “SNL” without a Trump is like an NBC without an “SNL” (and the less time we spend thinking about that, the better for NBC). But does playing the president have to be the burden of one unlucky ensemble member? What if it were punishment? Or “retribution,” as it were?
Are you the cast member who pitched the fewest sketches this week? Here is your wig, Mr. Trump. Sorry. Are you the key grip who microwaved fish in the employee kitchenette? Pleasure to meet you, Mr. President! See you on set. Are you a very bad dog who got into the breakroom trash? Hold still and do not eat this super-long necktie.
Like many of us watching, Baldwin can’t do this gig for another term (and he seems to know this). But once that gap opens up, I’m tempted to suggest “SNL” leave it unfilled.
After all, imagine Trump getting his wish, and pulling the blankets up around him as his television shows him a world completely unaware of his existence. Now that would be funny.Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MBrodeur.